Author Archives: rmontjoie

Why did Constantinople get the works? That’s nobody’s business but the Turks!

Istanbul, Turkey – Rest day!

28 July 2014

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If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll remember how we commented on the fact that every village in Romania has such a well maintained church; well, Turkey has exactly the same, except that instead of steeples on churches, they’re beautiful minarets attached to spectacular Mosques.

Proudly Turkish!

Proudly Turkish!

Our hostel was a stone’s throw away from Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque, the two most famous buildings in Istanbul – this definitely had its perks; but one major downfall was getting there in Stan!

Our GPS is most definitely has its own agenda or may have been tampered with by the Adventurists to throw a little chaos in the mix.  Or perhaps little Tom Tom is just a kindred spirit to taking the route less taken or forging a path where there is none (e.g. “In 100 m take the next left” – halfway up the Transfagarasan pass with cliff one side rock face on the other). The manufacturer is quite transparent in their declaration that their mapping of Turkey was not the most current! Understatement of the week! The GPS didn’t seem to differentiate between tram lines, pedestrian paths, market streets, one ways, or buildings. Driving through old town Istanbul 9 pm on the last night of Ramadan, a Saturday night, dodging trams, tourists and street vendors turned into quite a challenge! Susan quickly got into the swing of things and adopted the Turkish style of driving with a healthy disregard for the rules of the road. We bounced down the tram lines following the trams and taxis, all the while dodging pedestrians and street vendors and gaining some funny looks, with more than a couple of people pausing to take a photo! Eventually we had to park in a, uuuh, park (that must be where parks get their name from), and Jess and Rich walked on foot to the Hostel, checked in, found a decent map and a legal-ish route to the hostel and guided JP and Susanne to a parking close to the hostel.

Stan in central Istanbul. His petite size made it easy to maneuver around the tight streets

Stan in central Istanbul. His petite size made it easy to maneuver around the tight streets

The guys in the hostel lobby loved the buffalo head

The guys in the hostel lobby loved the buffalo head

The first stop was The Sultan Ahmed Mosque or more commonly known the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles adorning the walls of its interior. Built from 1609 to 1616, the Mosque is spectacular, both from the inside and the outside. The outside is impressive with its massive main dome, six minarets, and eight secondary domes. Apparently the design is the culmination of two centuries of Ottoman mosque development and it certainly shows.

The team with the Blue Mosque in the background

The team with the Blue Mosque in the background

The impressive Blue Mosque

The impressive Blue Mosque

The interior of the mosque is lined with more than 20,000 handmade ceramic tiles and 200 stained glass windows with intricate designs. The floors are covered with carpets, which are donated by the faithful and are regularly replaced as they wear out.

Intricate stain glass windows

Intricate stain glass windows

The blue mosaics give the Blue Mosque its popular name

The blue mosaics give the Blue Mosque its popular name

Men and women are required to dress respectfully, and both sexes are required to cover their legs and remove their shoes when entering the mosque, and women are required to cover their shoulders and heads. There was a really great display on Islam and its apparent that the world suffers from a gross misunderstanding of the various religions! The Turks do a great job of blending eastern and western cultures in a respectful way and we were generally impressed at how modern and progressive Turkey is.

JP actually looking vaguely respectable

JP actually looking vaguely respectable

We were forbi den to go in the garden

We were forbi den to go in the garden

To facilitate the visit, the team picked up a guide. Deniz was great and happily showed us around the mosque, which was then followed by the obligatory stop at his brother’s ceramic shop, and then the lengthy stop at his family carpet shop. Rich gapped it out of there pretty quick, and in a sufficiently grumpy mood from looking at carpets, set himself the task of trying to extract the last of Jess’s visas from The Visa Machine, our agents in London who had assisted in sorting out our various visas, however Jess was still outstanding her Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan visas.

Carpet shopping with Deniz (I think he may be related to Denephew?)

Carpet shopping with Deniz (I think he may be related to Denephew?)

Once Jess and JP had extricated themselves from the carpet shop, the next stop was Topkapi Palace, home of the Ottoman sultans for approximately 400 years (1465 – 1856) of their 624-year reign.

Off to Topkapi Palace

Off to Topkapi Palace

It was sweltering hot, and the place was packed. We tried to take refuge on some comfy looking lawn in the shade in the garden, but were shepherded off at gunpoint – these Turks take their gardening seriously! The only way you could get onto the lawn was to pose for a picture with the guard!

This guy WILL shoot you if you go on the lawn!

This guy WILL shoot you if you go on the lawn!

We duly made our way into the palace – clearly this place was fit for the Sultans, and there was no denying the fact that a serious empire was ruled from here. The view over Istanbul was awesome; what a privilege for a city to have such rich history and for us to experience part of it! We wondered which of our modern creations would be visited by tourists in 600 years’ time…

Entering the Palace

Entering the Palace

Jess played the role of Tour Guide with her trusty Lonely Planet

Jess played the role of Tour Guide with her trusty Lonely Planet

An entire room devoted to clocks. This was a bad idea for snooze function

An entire room devoted to clocks. This was a bad idea for snooze function

The Palace contained an impressive collection of relics from the time of Ottoman Empire rule

The Palace contained an impressive collection of relics from the time of Ottoman Empire rule

Unfortunately Sofia Mosque, just up the Hippodrome, was closed, but some shameless tourism shots were taken! JP and Rich pretended they were horses and raced around the former hippodrome until they got tired after about 15 seconds of galloping. For those of you not fluent in Latin, hippo = horse and drome = arena (or something like that!). They also found the Obelisk and Rich finally clicked on where Obelix from Asterix and Obelix gets his name from…

Only 12,847 km from Cape Town

Only 12,847 km from Cape Town

7,563 km to Ulan Bataar

7,563 km to Ulan Bataar

Chuffed at completing a solid sweltering day of sightseeing, it was time for a beer and to find some of the other teams located in Istanbul. Through some cunning Facebooking, everyone eventually congregated on Taksem Square, a vibey part of town about a 10 minute taxi drive away, with streets lines with top label shops and side alleys filled with a variety of bars, lousy restaurants and pumping clubs. It was truly excellent to catch up with teams that we had last seen either in London or Czech Republic and exchange stories and catch up on news and hear what routes everyone is planning on taking.  Stan had entered the annals of fame (or infamy) with the story of being towed by a smart car! A rather late finish inevitably meant a late start the next day, which entailed a 750 km drive (12 hours in Stan!) to Samsun on the Black Sea coast. Here we go again!

Team Wrong Direction. Well, one of the three teams called Wrong Direction

Team Wrong Direction. Well, one of the three teams called Wrong Direction

Rich's bag exploded when he was looking for clean-ish clothes

Rich’s bag exploded when he was looking for clean-ish clothes

 

 

Aufwiedersehn Europe… 25% Completion Milestone!

Bucharest, Romania to Istanbul, Turkey

27 July 2014

After arriving in grubby Bucharest before dusk for the first time so far, the team treated themselves to a hearty Romanian meal in Bucharest old town, and we were impressed by the quality of the cuisine and the décor of the restaurant, which was located across the road from the closed Natural History Museum with a crazy statue of a naked guy holding a, uuuh, we think it’s a dog, outside of it!

 

This is a statue of, uuuh, we actually have no idea...

This is a statue of, uuuh, we actually have no idea…

 

It was great chatting to some of our fellow residents at Friends backpackers – a group from The Netherlands was out in Bucharest helping some of the “forgotten” youth get an education. After the regime change in Romania, a whole whack of people ended up “identity-less” – no Identification or Social Security number, and no prospects of getting an education, job and any government support. This group was assisting youth in the Bucharest ghettos get an education, which is the first step to getting an identity in Romania and moving your life forward. This reminded us of the kids that JP and Rich visited at the various Gumboots-supported projects in Alexandra, Johannesburg; these kids need an education to break out of the vicious cycle of poverty that is the blight of our townships. So if you’re enjoying these blogs and updates, why not click on the Gumboots link on the left, even 10 quid can make a difference!

Our friends from The Netherlands who are doing great work in the Romanian ghetto's, in a similar style to the work that Gumboots supports

Our friends from The Netherlands who are doing great work in the Romanian ghetto’s, in a similar style to the work that Gumboots supports

Funnily enough, Bucharest reminded us of some African cities, pretty grubby on the outskirts with wasteful palatial government buildings built at the expense of the people. The Palace of the Parliament, Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s most infamous creation, is no exception. It’s the world’s second largest building after the Pentagon in the US, at 12 stories high with 3,100 rooms, it covers an enormous 330,000 m2 and was estimated to have cost €3.3 billion when it was built in 1984.

The Palace of Parliament, the second largets building in the world after the Pentagon. Thats your tax working for you :-)

The Palace of Parliament, the second largets building in the world after the Pentagon. Thats your tax working for you :-)

Ceausescu was a real piece of work… Ruling from 1965 to 1989, this megalomaniacal dictator was responsible for one of the most hardline regime within the Eastern Bloc states. Not afraid of a bit of nepotism, Ceausescu appointed his wife, son and three brothers to important political positions, and this family team embarked on expensive follies like tearing down large swathes of Bucharest to build the Palace of the Parliament, the Danube Canal and the Transfagasaran Highway while the country experienced severe food shortages. Shortly after the fall of the Berlin wall, in December 1989 Ceausescu’s reign came to an abrupt end and he and his wife were executed by firing squad on the 25th December 1989.

Another statue, probably erected by the crazy dictator

Another statue, probably erected by the crazy dictator

The team continued on south towards Turkey, and crossed the mighty Danube into Bulgaria with a relatively easy border crossing. Three of four of the team were fast asleep in the car for the crossing of the Balkan mountains, not passing too far from Botev mountain at 2376 m, and then descending onto the exceedingly flat Thracean plain to the south.

Crossing the Danube into Bulgaria

Crossing the Danube into Bulgaria

Welcome to Bulgaria and we hope you enjoy your stay

Welcome to Bulgaria and we hope you enjoy your stay

Although we were only in the country for a few hours, we certainly got the impression that Bulgaria was by far the most rural of the countries that we had passed through so far – the roads where narrow and very potholed in places, and few shops accepted our trusty Visa credit and cheque cards.

Beware of Afristans being towed by horses

Beware of Afristans being towed by horses

Crossing into Turkey was a pleasure, and we met another the team at the border – Crossing the Rubikhan (www.crossingtherubikhan.com). This American team had headed down the Dalmatian coast and would be following a similar route to us, but elected not to push on to Istanbul from the border.

Team Crossing the Rhubikhan at the Turkey Border

Team Crossing the Rhubikhan at the Turkey Border

Our minds were blown by the nearly 10 km queue of trucks crossing from Turkey to Bulgaria blew our minds!

Minds blown a nearly 10 km line of trucks waiting to get into Bulgaria

Minds blown a nearly 10 km line of trucks waiting to get into Bulgaria

Another great experience was had just the other side of the border at a little roadside shop that fed us fresh olives and baclavaci. The shopkeep were as interested in our attire and car as we were in their wares!

The Pith helmets are always a hit!

The Pith helmets are always a hit!

More memories of South Africa were invoked when we hopped onto the highway from the border to Istanbul – a beautiful 3 lane motorway with a – wait for it – e-tag system! And no, we didn’t buy an E-tag! South Africa’s Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance would be proud! The big difference is that we made 3 attempts to buy our e-tag, failed twice, and upon finding a highway tax and excise officer he insisted that we do not pay. You will have to take our word for it, though this will form the basis of our defence should the matter be raised in Turkish court. Jessica will TRANSLATE OUR CASE INTO TURKISH FOR US!!

After a full week in the car we will be treating ourselves to two nights in Istanbul. We have lined up a jam packed day of sightseeing in Istanbul for the team tomorrow, and are only sorry that we cannot take Stan with us up the minarets of the Blue Mosque for a photo op! If things go according to plan, we should officially cross into geographical Asia! Big moment.

Oh, and Stan has now done 250,000 km! He’s only got to get us approximately 11,000 km more. You can do it Stan!

250,000 km  on Stan! What a guy!

250,000 km on Stan! What a guy!

Carpathian Castles and Transfagarasan Touring

Brasov, Romania to Bucharest, Romania via Bran’s Castle and the Transfagarasan Highway

We were mildly shocked see that Stan’s South Afristan stickers had been stolen while he was parked out in the street. The deign must have been too awesome for someone to resist! No worries, we have more!

Check out the missing South Afristan sticker on the rear window... Must have been too cool for someone to resist

Check out the missing South Afristan sticker on the rear window… Must have been too cool for someone to resist

Seems like gas station cafés are becoming our staple source of breakfast, lunch and more often than not our dinner diet… They typically provide us with all the necessities that we require; namely; petrol, oil, sandwiches, coffee, water, and any other drinks we may need. Stops are characterised by a mad dash to simultaneously find and log onto the wifi, fill up with petrol, fill up with oil, buy more oil, try figure out if we should pay with Visa card or use up any remaining currency that we may have of the country that we’re currently in…

A strong coffee and some tasty sandwiches kicked everyone into gear and we excitedly headed across Transylvania to the bustling tourism town of Bran. Rich was particularly impressed by the local car guards in short shorts and spotted a potential career opportunity should the need arise.

Car guards in Transylvania like short shorts

Car guards in Transylvania like short shorts

JP being extorted by the car guard... Reminds us fondly of home

JP being extorted by the car guard… Reminds us fondly of home

Bran is home of Bran’s Castle and made famous by Vlad Dracula the Third (derived from him being a member of the Order of the Dragon), or more infamously known as Vlad the Impaler. Between 1428 and 1436, Vlad Dracul took up residence in Transylvania. Until 1448 he was a prisoner of the Ottoman Empire and was trained in the arts of military customs and technique. After his father’s death in 1448, Vlad returned to Transylvania as Prince of Wallachia with the blessing of the Turks and on their behalf. Our guy Vlad turned out to be a bit of a tough cookie. He earned his “Impaler” reputation by his favoured method of execution: impaling his victims with a blunt wooden stake carefully inserted up their rectums and avoiding all vital organs until the stake protruded from the hapless victim’s mouth – death could take hours or even days… This reminded the team of South Africa’s own Shaka Zulu.

Internationally Vlad has a bad reputation; but locally he is a bit of a folk hero with a reputation of being vicious to his enemies but kind and giving to the local populace.

Bram Stoker based his famous Dracula character on Vlad; and Bran’s Castle, perched on top of a hill, is portrayed as the home of Dracula!

Bran's Castle - the basis for Count Dracula's Castle!

Bran’s Castle – the basis for Count Dracula’s Castle!

Ominous on top of the hill

Ominous on top of the hill

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Jess inside one of the stairwells in Bran’s Castle

Bran Castle Courtyard

Bran Castle Courtyard

Outfit of the Order of the Teutonic Knights

Outfit of the Order of the Teutonic Knights

Alpha male of the South Afristans gets to wear this

Alpha male of the South Afristans gets to wear this

The team was not disappointed by the Castle, and enjoyed the festive vibe around the Castle and the surrounding market which buzzed with tourists and was packed with cheesy Dracula-themed trinkets. JP debated hard with himself on whether to buy a goats skin set of bagpipes, but fortunately for our ears sanity prevailed and he desisted, and the team escaped relatively unscathed, barring a few crazy animal hats…

Which Afristan member is this?

Which Afristan member is this?

Don't buy it JP! Our ears!!! Noooo!!!!

Don’t buy it JP! Our ears!!! Noooo!!!!

A short 150 km backtrack to the Transfagasaran Highway was next on the agenda with a quick stop at Vulcan (well, the sign to Vulcan…)

The Crew of the Stanship Enterprise: Live long and Prosper

The Crew of the Stanship Enterprise: Live long and Prosper

The Transfagasaran is a 90 km long highway that was built in the early 1970’s running north and south across the tallest sections of the Southern Carpathian mountains. The highway is characterized by crazy twists and turns, with 180° switchbacks and hairpins all over the place! Built by Ceausesco, Romania’s megalomaniac dictator to allow quick military access to the Carpathians in the event of a Soviet Invasion, the highway struck us somewhat of a white elephant but an awesome tourist attraction nonetheless. Despite the wet weather, the road was filled with motorists and bikers out on a joy ride.

Transfagarasan Highway is the second highest tarred road in Romania

Transfagarasan Highway is the second highest tarred road in Romania

JP's Gopro has a massive 2 minutes 20 seconds of recording time! Ideal for a 2 hour drive!

JP’s Gopro has a massive 2 minutes 20 seconds of recording time! Ideal for a 2 hour drive!

Cold wet and rainy with the Transfagarasan still to be climbed!

Cold wet and rainy with the Transfagarasan still to be climbed!

Crazy switchbacks everywhere!

Crazy switchbacks everywhere!

On the southern side of the Carpathians, the road winds its way down and along a massive dam set in spectacular scenery, and home to what appears to be a pumped storage hydro-electric scheme.

On the southern side of the Carpathians

On the southern side of the Carpathians

Don't trip

Don’t trip

JP and Rich working on their selfie skills

JP and Rich working on their selfie skills

Once south of the Carpathians, we gapped it for Bucharest. Once in Bucharest, Stans colourful appearance made a lot of people and made the backpackers before nightfall, which was a first for a while!

A breakfast feast and our first passport control!

25 July – Tokaj, Hungary to Brasov, Romania
OK so we’re giving all our readers a charity challenge – we’ve now visited 10 countries. We challenge all of you to donate £10 to either Gumboots or Cool Earth (or any amount you’re comfortable with). We’ve raised nearly £500 so far but now it’s time to step up our game. We want to raise £10,000 so some way to go still. If you’ve already donated, why not encourage 3 people you know to match your donation and show support. What we haven’t revealed yet is that we’re trying to break the record for number of countries visited in a Mongol Rally. We’ve been told that the number to beat is 21.
Gumboots is a UK charity which supports community projects in South Africa www.gumboots.org.uk. They help vulnerable and orphaned children in Alexandra township in Johannesburg. Providing for basic needs like food, education, school books & uniforms and emotional support. There are more than 1,000 beneficiaries of this organisation, which is solely run by volunteers. Our team’s goal is to raise £10,000 for the Gumboots Foundation over the next 4 weeks and this is where we need your help!

To put the situation into perspective, at the Leratong preschool, one of Gumboots beneficiaries, they can support one child for 1 month for R250 / £14 / €17.50 / $25. If we as South Afristans and all of you as our supporters raise £10,000 we can put all 85 unsupported children through preschool for an entire year!
Please help us to help them and donate on Justgiving. Small amounts of money can make a real difference! Why not support a child for one month!
https://www.justgiving.com/TheSouthAfristans/

We’d also like to ask your help in donating to Cool Earth, which works towards providing communities sustainable alternatives to deforestation. Go to:
https://www.justgiving.com/SouthAfristans-CoolEarth/

And back to the Rally…

We had to pinch ourselves to make sure we weren’t dreaming. No it’s real, we’re still at the winefarm. But up at 5 am to pick grapes, press them in the vats squishing them between the toes, dancing and singing, being bathed in wine in the morning sunlight… oh wait – that was the dream.

We prepped for the road and then were spoilt once more with smorgasbord feast of Hungarian meats, smoked ham, pepper sausage, cottage cheese, ice peppers and garden fresh tomatoes, not to forget the cherry pie. Pinch? Nope, awake this time. We thanked our terribly gracious hosts again, being able to offer only tokens of appreciation, the limited edition highly-collectible South Afristan t-shirts, some beaded animal miniatures, and malachite and copper gifts that Jess brought along from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Our gracious hosts giving us some wine, grapes and schnapps

Our gracious hosts giving us some wine, grapes and schnapps

The legendary South Afristan T-shirt gets handed over in return

The legendary South Afristan T-shirt gets handed over in return

Super stoked with his South Africa cap!

Super stoked with his South Africa cap!

Farewell photo at the top of Tokaj

Farewell photo at the top of Tokaj

It was in the car for another marathon dash across Europe. Today was only 500 odd kms but it took us well on 12 hours with a slow but bearable border crossing from Hungary into Romania.

Welcome to Romania!

Welcome to Romania!

Another stamp in the passport

Another stamp in the passport

Driving into rural Romania was a bit like taking a step back in time; the roads were narrow and winding, the trains, cars and building are old and horse drawn carriages on the roads are common.

Bicycles are super common

Bicycles are super common

Cool old train!

Cool old train!

Stan the Van by a very old completely wooden church

Stan the Van by a very old completely wooden church

Almost creepy!

Almost creepy!

The roadsides are scattered with crazy billboards, and every town contains a magnificent church. Always impressive! As well as some crazy statues, probably in homage (or more like built by) some megalomaniac dictator, of which Romania has had there fare share! You definitely get the feel that you’re in Eastern Europe!

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Churches are always well maintained in every time

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Crazy statues

Crazy statues

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The roads in Romania are full of hairpin turns and they’ve managed to forget to put in road camber for the most part. We managed a food and gas stop (…or is food then gas?), but it was slow going with 50 km zone followed by 50 km zone. Just when we thought we would be on track to reach Brasov before midnight, a massive thunderstorm slowed down our progress (guess this is the mysterious Transylvania after all…), and just to make things a bit more interesting, Romanian drivers take great pleasure in overtaking in the face of oncoming traffic (read us).
We eventually pulled into Brasov after midnight, relieved to be off the roads and promised ourselves that we would try have a shorter day tomorrow, but this may mean at the expense of our tight itinerary…

Hope you’re hungry when you get to Hungary!

Arnstorf, Germany to Tokaj, Hungary (via Vienna, Austria)

So after our first real sit-down dinner, everyone woke up fresh and well rested. Our guesthouse was situated in an idyllic little village. We’d like to say that it was a one horse town but it had 5 horses in fact – virtually one for each inhabitant (6 houses and one very well kept chapel and graveyard). I don’t if everyone quite appreciated the strong Bavarian accent as much as Susanne.

Cool rural accommodation in rural Germany!

Cool rural accommodation in rural Germany!

Church right next door to our guesthouse

Church right next door to our guesthouse

We mused to ourselves (and now de facto you just by reading this) that in the first 5 days of our adventure we’ve been in Germany every single day! And we had eaten neither sauerkraut nor eisbein.

Against our expectations, word was back from the Subaru enthusiast / mechanic that the Stan the Van was healed and walking again …though he may never play the piano. Rich’s initial diagnosis of a faulty propshaft, which then shifted to a faulty diff, was incorrect. We are fortunate in his removing of said propshaft at one point that we did not dismember our poor friend irreparably. The problem turned out to be the stripped splines on the hub and brake drum. The huge irony of this was that this was the only piece we replaced with new parts in advance of the rally!! A strongly worded letter will be furnished to the mechanics that supplied the part.

Stripped hub on the rear brake drum was making all the racket on the transmission

Stripped hub on the rear brake drum was making all the racket on the transmission

As mentioned, the mechanic being an E12 Libero aficionado had to our astonishment sacrificed the hub from his own E12 Libero for us. Stan was good to go with the mechanic’s own vehicle on a hydraulic lift! That’s like receiving a kidney from a complete stranger.

The brave little Libero that donated his good hub to Stan

The brave little Libero that donated his good hub to Stan

The only lasting damage from our mishap was a broken windscreen washer pump which had been damaged in the towing-whilst-steering-is-locked incident.

Inspecting the broken water washer pump. Doh!

Inspecting the broken water washer pump. Doh!

Susanne, our rather efficient German, hands over an Afristan shirt to the bemused German mechanic

Susanne, our rather efficient German, hands over an Afristan shirt to the bemused German mechanic

So once again, in true Afristan-style, we got started before the crack of noon and left Arnstorf at about 11 am! Despite our best efforts, I think we may just not be morning people! Rich was happy to be back in his cave at the rear of the van, whilst Jess took upon the responsibility of DJ from the middle seat, and JP and Susanne took it in turns to drive for the remainder of the rally, I mean day (Side bet: can Rich and Jess get all the way to Mongolia without driving?). On that note, look out for an upcoming blog dedicated to Stan the Van and the logistics of packing a tiny car with four adults and gear for a 17,000 km journey!

Rich in his cave

Rich in his cave

We gapped it pretty quickly out of Germany, (hopefully for the last time this trip!), and headed for Vienna, Austria, onwards to Slovakia and then into Hungary. We were terribly disappointed and asked for a refund – we didn’t see a single kangaroo in Austria!! We did happen across a travelling band from Buluwayo, Zimbabwe called “MoZuluArt” – a fusion of African and Mozart – check them out! On hitting Hungary we had attained our tenth country of the adventure. A song springs to mind, stop me if you know it: “Oooh, we’re half way there, oh ho! living in-a Libero!”

Please do not feed the kangaroos in Austria

Please do not feed the kangaroos in Austria

Another cool history lesson from Wikipedia prepared by JP on Napolean’s cunning military tactics at the Battle of Austerlitz where he beat the Russians and The Holy Roman Empire – the Battle of the Three Emperors. Whilst Napolean was not confident of victory his trap worked, Russia retracted from the war and The Holy Roman Empire ceased to exist. Unfortunately, our breakdown had taken us off our planned route so we missed a stop at the battle site and had to be content with armchair-historianism.

For once our GPS navigator did not lead us astray and we had a brief tour right through the heart of Budapest with glorious 7 pm sunlight lending a warm soft glow.

We arrived to our friends’ vineyard near Tokaj Hungary called Janos Pince (trans: John’s Cellar). Our hosts were the Takecs family. The Tokaj region is world renowned for its Aszu white wines, at about 10 pm. Ironically, we had planned to arrive 10 pm the previous night, so we were technically only 24 hours late for our bacchanalian soiree. We were greeted with 4 varieties of Palinka (sp), a distilled spirit with a typical alcohol content of 50%.

Rich wasn't quite clear if these where shooters o sippy-cup drinks...

Rich wasn’t quite clear if these where shooters o sippy-cup drinks…

We were each poured the equivalent of a double shot and Richard was a little distressed after he had shot it back that one was meant to sip it slowly. We were then treated to a traditional Hungarian goulash that had been prepared over an open fire and cooked on a tripod in a cast iron pot, not unlike our own poitjie pots. After dinner we retired to the conservatory for cigars and cognac …oh wait, that’s the Agatha Christie novel I’m reading. After dinner we were invited to visit the cellar to do a tasting from the barrels. We were a little loss for words when they asked us if we wanted to try every barrel or just a selection.

We were requested to "please try every barrel"

We were requested to “please try every barrel”

We quickly found our words and requested only a selection from the 20 or so barrels. We tasted a fine selection of dry whites (check terminology – basic wine) grading up to sweeter wines ultimately to dessert wines. All the cultivars had very interesting names like “Lime Tree” or “Grandfather’s Favourite” and most of the cultivars are exclusive to the region or even developed in-house. After about 8 tastings (and 11 hours of driving just previously) we were calling time. Our hosts were not offended in the least and merely suggested we move back to the house and select one wine that we’d like to drink through the night, and another 3 poutin Aszu wine but this bottled. We did our best  for international relations and regaled stories of South African wine, but we’re not aware of wines like these back home. What a treat!

 

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Awesome vineyards

Ze Diff is kaput and we can’t seem to escape Germany

Hey guys! Just a reminder that we’re doing this for charity, and our Facebook page has had over 3,500 hits so far!

Some perspective R250 is enough for one child to go to Leratong preschool for 1 month, that’s the equivalent of £14 or €17.5. Small amounts of money can make a real difference. Of the 140 kids at Leratong this year, 85 of them have no means of funding for the school,  £10,000 is almost enough to send all 85 kids to pre-school for 1 year.  So click on the links on the right, and make a difference to the world! Who knows, that R250 may be sponsoring the next amazing South African statesman – maybe we’ll see another Mandela come out of this!

JP adding oil to the ever oil hungry Stan (I think he may be an American car....)

JP adding oil to the ever oil hungry Stan (I think he may be an American car….)

though we were up at 7 am, true to South Afristan form, we only managed to leave Klenova Castle around 10 am!

The diff by now was clunking horribly, and a quick inspection and removal of the prop shaft in a parking close to Klenova confirmed our suspicions that the rear diff is on its way out.

We tried to get the diff repaired at a Subaru workshop in Plzen, Czech Republic, but the mechanics had never seen a car like ours and began looking for the rear diff under the water buffalo head. Come on guys, everyone knows the rear diff is in the roof! The recommendation was to go back to Germany. We called the Subaru emergency hotline who then called around to over 50 Subaru dealers. As soon as the hotline woman said there was a water buffalo head on the front of the car they asked if that was where the rear diff was located. Amazingly, she found a Subaru dealership/enthusiast in Arnstorf, southern Bavaria, only about two hours south of Plzen who not only drives one of these himself but has built up a stock of Subaru Liberos should he ever need to fix his.

We duly set off a-clunking along, and only 8 km from Anstorf, as we took the offramp, the diff finally died a horrible death with rattling and banging such that we ground to halt and could go no more. The woman behind us in the smallest car in the world promptly hopped out of her Smart car, pointed at her tow hitch (!), and informed us that she lives in the same village where the dealer is, and she would tow us directly there!

Stan getting hooked up to the smallest possible tow car ever!

Stan getting hooked up to the smallest possible tow car ever!

The tow rope was rigged up and we set off, only to realise with great panic that the keys were in JP’s pocket, and not in the ignition, and as we made the first corner the steering wheel locked. Our Subaru van careered off into the face of oncoming traffic and dragged the Smart car sideways with a skid and screech, luckily everyone came to a complete stop in various states of disarray, with water pouring out the front of our car and only a mild bending of the woman’s tow hitch (and bumper). We were washed with relief when we realized that our damaged was limited to a soap tearing of the windshield wash water pipe – easily fixed.

The mayhem after JP forgot to put the keys in the ignition

The mayhem after JP forgot to put the keys in the ignition

Once the keys were located and the steering unlocked, we attempted “surreal tow part deux”. The Smart car set off and proceeded to tow us at speeds we could only dream of reaching by ourselves in Stan! The next absolutely terrifying 8 km was spent with white knuckles, only punctuated with raucous laughter at the ridiculous situation we found ourselves in; being towed at 100 km/h by the smallest car we could possible imagine, to the song “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” literally playing on Bavarian radio. As we drove past the local restaurant, patrons leapt to their feet to take photos of the outlandish scene that was passing them by.

Zat is good, ja?

Zat is good, ja?

The amazing tow...

The amazing tow…

After dropping Stan off at the Subaru shop, we were shepherded off to a guest house stuck in 1967, located in the middle of rural Germany, about 4 km away from Arnstorf. The bed and breakfast is the centre of the village, which consists exactly of 6 houses and an immaculately maintained church. With no cell phone reception and definitely no internet, the team is nervously awaiting the report from the mechanic on whether Stan can in fact be economically fixed, or do we have to find another vehicle to get us to Mongolia? Should this scenario play out, it brings with it several challenges regarding licencing and insurance of the replacement vehicle, so let’s hold thumbs that Stan can in fact be repaired!

A sight for sore eyes!

A sight for sore eyes!

Susanne chatting to Sophie, our heroine!

Susanne chatting to Sophie, our heroine!

The upside is that we had our first sit down dinner since the beginning of the trip. Cool accommodation!

Quaint accommodation in very rural Germany - no internet, or even cell phone reception

Quaint accommodation in very rural Germany – no internet, or even cell phone reception

Saffers on Safari at the Czech-out Party, Kle-super-nova Castle

22 July 2014

Munich – Germany to Klenova Castle; Czech Republic

So the day pretty much got off to a more than ideal start; a quick trip to the Hofbrauhaus near Marienplatz, Munich, for Weisswurst und Weissbier, followed by a nap in his awesome leopard print onesie for Rich while on the road to the Czech Republic, where we were scheduled to meet up with the rest of the ralliers for the famous Czech-out Party at Klenova Castle.

Susanne thoroughly enjoyed the macabre skeletons on display at the Regensburg Monastery and Jess spent her time stealing apples from the gardens of unsuspecting locals. Regensburg Old Town is one of the best preserved medieval towns in Germany, it’s too bad we were on a tight time constraint.

Decorated Skeleton at Regensburg Monastory - looking good after 1,000 years!

Decorated Skeleton at Regensburg Monastory – looking good after 1,000 years!

The next stop was the KTB Geological site, which hosts the world’s second deepest drill hole, at 9,101 m. JP and Rich were obviously excited about this stop, and spent the next few hours trying to explain to Jessica, our tame mining engineer, and Susanne, our rather efficient German HR consultant, why drilling such a deep hole is such an amazing feat. We failed. They were impressed by the earthquake simulator but not much else. We must be careful to prep them for our stop to the Jura mountains with a screening of Jurassic Park 1, 2 and 3 (though 3 makes little geological or scientific contribution).

South Afristans at the second deepest drillhole in the world

South Afristans at the second deepest drillhole in the world

Super excited to be on our way to the Czech out party in Klenova, we high-tailed it out of the drill site and headed off to the Czech Republic. As we got closer to Klenova, Stan the Van began making a nasty knocking noise in the engine when the one took their foot off the gas, perhaps in protest of realization of what we were actually up to – driving to Mongolia. Being more concerned making our party at this stage, we hurried along and were pretty stoked to see more and more teams on the road.

We took the lead in navigating to Klenova Castle in a procession of Rally cars and two motorcycles. For some reason our outlandish decoration and sparkling waterbuffalo head gives us considerable “Rally collateral” as if we actually know what we are doing. We don’t. We managed to get not only ourselves horribly lost up a mountain, but you just try to do a 5 vehicle U-turn!

Rich and Jess leading the charge into Klenova Castle

Rich and Jess leading the charge into Klenova Castle

It was great to finally arrive at the Klenova site, and hear all of the other teams trials and tribulations of getting out of London, across the Channel and dealing with navigation, accommodation and weather issues! One team had been repeatedly harassed by police and breathalysed more than once! Haha. I guess the logic to the outside world is that we must be either crazy or drunk! Most teams had gone all out on costumes for the party, and the South Afristans donned their animal onesies and safari outfits, and looked exemplary in their pith helmets!

Camping at the Czech-out Party

Camping at the Czech-out Party

The Adventurists had also gone all out with the décor and entertainment, and the ralliers rocked out to fire shows, fireworks, DJ’s, Czech rum and good local Czech beer. We’re not too sure what the theme was but it was kind of Vaudeveille freak show meets skeletons.

I think we may have picked her up at the Monastery...

I think we may have picked her up at the Monastery…

Sharing beers with the Romanians and teh Lion Rampants

Sharing beers with the Romanians and teh Lion Rampants

Despite a rampant lion trying to invade the van, the Lion was duly evicted by a rather efficient hibernating giraffe. Better luck next time Lion!

Link

After the previous night’s party, the 5:30 am start meant that team was eternally grateful for not overdoing it (yes, can you believe it?) the previous night at the Launch Party (somehow Jessica managed to score a hangover, but we don’t know if this a new superpower or if she just wanted to have the Mr Grumbles book read to her.

General grumpiness at having to leave the comfort of HQ and enter the cramped space of the AfriVan

General grumpiness at having to leave the comfort of HQ and enter the cramped space of the AfriVan

A big thanks to Vivien Hunt for accommodating South Afristan HQ for the weekend, and for her awesome support and linking us with the Gumboots Team! Rich was a bit bummed to discover that not only had he left his IPad with all important maps and navigation software on the flight, he had also accidently sent his newly acquired sunglasses home with Kevin the previous evening.

Leaving Battersea Park was very cool, with us having to drive up the ramp and under the big Mongol Rally banner

Mongol Rally Launch

Mongol Rally Launch

JP also tried his hand at some last minute fund raising which he clearly learnt from the window washers in Johannesburg…

Last minute fund raising...

Last minute fund raising…

Rich’s mood definitely picked up when the team drove through the middle of a massive pirate party in Hastings, on their search for the Battle of Hastings historical site. Apparently 20th July is Pirate Day in Hastings. In all our excitement we missed the turn for the Battle site. Historic FAIL. Much to Rich’s disappointment the rest of team refused to stop to take part in the festivities, and chose to rather push on to catch the Chunnel.

Pirate Day in Hastings

Pirate Day in Hastings

Pirate Day in Hastings

Pirate Day in Hastings

Pirate Day in Hastings

Pirate Day in Hastings

Rich put his Boksburg car skills to good use, doing a quick radio replacement while on the train from Dover to Calais. Stan’s old tape deck is now discarded, having been replaced with a shiny new Bluetooth and aux port enabled Pioneer. One speaker is working, and the rest need more work. Susanne should’ve by now posted a pic on Facebook (www.facebook.com/southafristans)

South Afristans on the Chunnel

South Afristans on the Chunnel

It was pretty cool driving through Flanders Fields and other famous WWI and WWII sites, taking some selfies (using a tripod) at Dunkirk Memorial. The very cool and informative info packs assembled by the Hunt family were instrumental in educating the Afristans about the famous Dunkirk evacuation and events in the start of World War II.  Pretty cool to see and discuss the events of Dunkirk, and the team learned that this was arguably one of the great turning points of the war, mainly due to Hitler’s failure to press on with the Panzer’s march on Dunkirk allowing the British Expeditionary Forces time to set up adequate defences and properly evacuate 338,000 troops over 9 days! Jessica also edjumacated the team about the older history of the town as a foothold on the continent for British commerce, that ultimately assisted in its empire building.

Big pity we don’t have more time to explore other WWII sites, but kept entertained with various Wikipedia articles preprinted in JP’s country packs. Not sure where we’ll be sleeping tonight, and hoping that in the height of the European summer, we’ll find somewhere to stay when we’ve had enough of driving, but we need to get some miles under our belt to make Prague by the 22nd July for the Czech-out Party!

The Team in Dunkirk, France

The Team in Dunkirk, France

We’re still leaking a lot of oil, but leaking less since Stan had his checkup at Slow Boy Racing in London, the Subaru specialists! Matt, the mechanic, was intrigued as to why we were so concerned about the oil leak, when he spotted that the drive shaft was not bolted into the engine, and all four bolts bolting the drive shaft to the engine were missing…

Oil top ups are a regular thing...

Oil top ups are a regular thing…

PS: We finally arrived in Aachen, Germany at around 1 am this morning :) 5 countries in one day…

Mongol Rally Prelaunch and Registration

Rest of the sponsors stickers successfully placed on the Stan! He’s looking pretty awesome!

England versus India at Lords combined with a Palestinian protest over Gaza outside of Westminster Palace meant that getting from St Johns Wood to Battersea Park on time was next to impossible, despite leaving ample time for the usual London traffic. We were two hours late for registration, but because we are so awesome they asked us to be at the front of the pack in the middle aisle.

Insanely hot at Battersea Car park with no shade on a massive tarmac parking lot! Cars were lined up and teams intermingled, with everyone sussing out the types of cars, the decorations and what routes the various teams were taking.

South Afristan HQ in London

South Afristan HQ in London

image023

So true…

Minds blown at the wild array of people from all over the world taking part in the rally! With over 250 teams taking part, a massive amount of teams finally arrived in a crazy assortment of cars! We learnt that we are not the only Saffers in the pack, but we plan to challenge the aussie picachoos (they claim their onesies are actually kangaroos, but we’re not so sure…) to a game of rugby in the Kazakh steppe.

An Australian team in their Picachoo onesies

An Australian team in their Picachoo onesies

Basically every single team we spoke to had had hassles in sorting out visas, and JP and Rich were pretty stoked when they got their other passports back from The Visa Machine with all the required visas present! Jess is mildly concerned that she is still outstanding her Uzbekistan visa. Hopefully she’ll get it either in Prague or Istanbul.

A good a-lion-ance was made with our neighbouring team, two chaps from the south of London, The Lion Rampant, who were cooking in their Lion onesies! They made us a little nervous, stalking our little bok mascot.

Forming the al-lio-ance

Forming the al-lio-ance

A short prize giving was had before the teams headed off to the Launch Party at some bar just outside Battersea Park. The vote for the team least likely to make it to Mongolia was given to a single chap who was driving… wait for it… a Ferrari! And not an old one, a pretty sweet one at that! Just note that he wasn’t even able to find the Launch Party!

Voted least likely to make Mongolia

Voted least likely to make Mongolia

Also of note was for the car that was least in the spirit of the rally. This was given to a team of guys in a Ford Transit Van. The team was duly booed and refused to collect their prize, which was a full size gold washing machine. The washing machine was ceremoniously placed on the roof of their van, with the instructions that the machine has to be taken all the way to Mongolia!

Voted the car least in the spirit of the Rally

Voted the car least in the spirit of the Rally

A few beers and stories were shared with new friends at the Launch party, including a kiwi Geologist, before the team sensibly left at around 11 pm, excited for the prospects of leaving London tomorrow.

Viv was much more impressed with the branded glass beer mug that Rich stole from the launch party for her.

 

Let’s get Wrapping!

A grumpy already travel weary Jess and Rich were picked up at Heathrow by JP and Susanne, and for the first time, laid eyes on Stan the Afrivan, or now known as Stan the Van due to JP buying too few letters to actually spell out “Afrivan”.

Awesome accommodation and HQ set up in London at the South Afristan HQ!

HQ Door

South Afristans HQ in London – thanks Viv!

And so began the big wrap! Kudos to Clarity Print (www.clarityprint.co.za) back in South Africa for providing the car wrap and sponsor stickers in awesomely quick time. The team thought that JP was joking when he sheepishly told us that he had, uuuuh, forgotten the envelope containing the sponsor stickers at home. Luckily Susanne, being German and naturally not following JP’s sense of humour, immediately saw that he was in fact being serious and went off to get reprints, allowing us to roughly stay on schedule with the wrapping. Approximately 8 hours later we had successfully got the car wrapped up to look exactly like a bubbly and wrinkly Ndebele Hut … It is soooo awesome.

Wrapping Stan the AfriVan

JP wrapping Stan the AfriVan

Was great to meet up with our good mate Kevin Culligan and hand over a T-shirt and a hoodie for all his graphic design efforts and work on the webpage! Also amazing to see Appie, aka Adrian, and reminisce over good times at Splashy Fen down in Natal, South Africa! Viv was only mildly impressed with the rather plane beer glass that Rich stole from one of the London Bars for her…